David Mills: Now is opportune time for monument designation

GUEST OPINION: BOULDER-WHITE CLOUDS

June 16, 2014 

I've been watching Boulder-White Clouds monument discussions with interest and have followed efforts to protect this landscape my whole life. I remember then-Rep. Mike Crapo's efforts to create a wilderness bill for the area, a special place he honeymooned in. Gov. Cecil Andrus and Sen. Jim McClure broke bipartisan ground to end the gridlock, but politics of the time failed them.

It is Rep. Mike Simpson's extraordinary work over the past decade that deserves special mention. Simpson's compromise legislation, in addition to wilderness protections, contained provisions to protect access for motorized recreation, measures for ranchers, the counties, and more. Simpson's years of leadership (and his recent overwhelming primary win) cannot transcend the mess that is Congress today. The proposed Boulder-White Clouds monument is based on Simpson's work.

For over 35 years, as owners of Rocky Mountain River Tours, my wife, Sheila, and I have introduced thousands of people to the Idaho backcountry. Idaho's great places are deeply loved by all who live here, and citizens from around the nation, as well. Around countless Middle Fork Salmon campfires we described many Idaho places our guests should return to see.

As the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness protects the whole of the Middle Fork Salmon, the proposed Boulder-White Clouds monument would protect the whole East Fork Salmon watershed. This river system contains some of the highest-elevation spawning habitat for some of the longest-migrating Chinook salmon and steelhead on Earth. The area is a big-game haven. It is a recreation destination for people from all walks of life pursuing their outdoor experience in the many ways Idahoans enjoy. There is room for everyone here, and in this day of kids tied to iPads rather than tying on hiking boots, the need to highlight the greatness of Idaho's outdoors has never been more important.

When my dear friend Bethine Church created the Sawtooth Society, I joined her and served on the founding board of directors from 1997 to 2011. Bethine's goal was more than just protecting the extraordinary Sawtooth National Recreation Area as it was. She recognized that the U.S. Forest Service had not fully realized the mandate for protection given by Congress. At the 30th SNRA anniversary, I remember Sen. Crapo saying that the Forest Service had not been requesting the funds needed to fulfill the vision of the SNRA. Some of the Boulder-White Clouds is within the SNRA and has lost some of the wilderness character it had when the SNRA was created. The monument would protect wilderness values - and access - complementing the goals of the SNRA founders and provide protections much of the area has never had. As Bethine wrote before she passed, "Monument designation would bring a sense of completion to an effort started in 1972, when my husband, U.S. Sen. Frank Church, achieved passage of the legislation."

Conservation achievement comes when the moment is ripe. Some have asked, "What's the threat?" The threat is time and failing to act when we can. The Middle Fork Salmon was not protected to stop a threat. It was protected because Sen. Frank Church created the opportunity to do it. That's the kind of opportunity that exists for the Boulder-White Clouds today.

When Congress protected the Middle Fork, there was great support, but there was also bitter local opposition. Idahoans love our backyard public lands, but we can forget these are national lands. Embracing that fact, arguably, is a key part of Idaho's future in a growing global economy. Let's get it done.

David Mills was a river outfitter on the Middle Fork Salmon River for 35 years and retired in 2013. He's a member of Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association, America Outdoors, board member of the Sawtooth Society and third generation Idahoan.

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